More than 20 years ago, conservationists in New England had a grand vision: Create a 3.2 million-acre Maine Woods National Park and Preserve. Their goal was to set aside the nation’s second-largest publicly owned park, a vast landscape of forests, rivers and lakes stretching from the Canadian border near Jackman to the Allagash River, east to Patten and south past Greenville.

Today, the nonprofit group RESTORE: The North Woods continues to pursue its dream, with little to show for it. And as time passes, two big events have pushed this proposal further from reality.

The first is the creation of the Katahdin Woods & Waters Recreation Area on 100,000 acres east of Baxter State Park. Conservationist Roxanne Quimby and her family-led Eliotsville Plantation Inc. want to donate the land for a national park and a series of recreation units. To distance itself from RESTORE and calm critics who worry about the federal government taking over millions of acres in Maine, the family has pledged to limit the donation to 150,000 acres and set up an endowment to help pay for operations.

The second event is the gradual change in ownership of the 3.2 million acres of industrial forest first identified by RESTORE. Over the past 20 years, more than 1.6 million acres of the land has been protected through conservation easements and private or state purchases. Put another way, half of the land RESTORE wants to save already is a green spot on the map.

In an interview earlier this summer with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, made it clear that he doesn’t want the Katahdin Woods & Waters effort to be linked to RESTORE and its large-scale plan. Lingering perceptions of RESTORE, especially in the Millinocket area where many residents saw the group as a threat to traditional forestry and land use, hurt efforts to build public support for the smaller park and recreation units, he indicated.

“Our biggest challenge is that RESTORE existed,” St. Clair said. “They took an approach that alienated a lot of people.”

That point of view is rejected by Jym St. Pierre, RESTORE’s Maine director. Public support remains strong for a large national park in northern Maine, he said, citing various polls and surveys taken since 1997. What Eliotsville Plantation Inc. is trying to do, he said, complements, rather than competes with, that vision. Detractors have a conspiracy theory that Katahdin Woods & Waters is a front for RESTORE, St. Pierre said, and that’s not true.

“They have been quite clear that they are only focused on protecting the land they own,” he said. “They’re doing their own thing, their own campaign.”

Although it operates these days on a reduced budget, RESTORE will continue its mission of outreach, education and advocacy for a big national park and for issues that affect the wildlife and ecology of the North Woods, St. Pierre said.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” he said, “but we’re still here.”


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